'MEI': New hiring principle sparks debate amid DEI strategies

Elon Musk endorses MEI, which touts hiring 'only the best person for the job'

'MEI': New hiring principle sparks debate amid DEI strategies

A new hiring principle that leaders are throwing their support around is drawing division amid implications that it's meant to oppose diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies in the workplace.

MEI, which stands for merit, excellence, and intelligence, has been introduced at tech startup Scale AI this month by its CEO Alexandr Wang.

"That means we hire only the best person for the job, we seek out and demand excellence, and we unapologetically prefer people who are very smart," Wang said in a blog post.

"We treat everyone as an individual. We do not unfairly stereotype, tokenize, or otherwise treat anyone as a member of a demographic group rather than as an individual."

In his message, which was also uploaded on X, the CEO underscored that this hiring principle will not conflict with diversity.

"No group has a monopoly on excellence. A hiring process based on merit will naturally yield a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas," he said.

"We will not pick winners and losers based on someone being the 'right' or 'wrong' race, gender, and so on. It should be needless to say, and yet it needs saying: doing so would be racist and sexist, not to mention illegal."

His MEI strategy has been lauded by other leaders, including Elon Musk who commented that it was "great" on Wang's post on X.

Tobi Lutke, CEO of Shopify, also said: "Based. Good work making it clear, Alex."

Brian Armstrong, co-founder and CEO of Coinbase, also commented: "Well said! I expect others will follow."

Criticism of MEI

But leaders and experts on DEI are criticising Wang's MEI strategy.

Fortune, citing DEI experts, reported that while Wang made a point in saying merit and diversity shouldn't oppose each other, he was wrong to suggest that hiring managers are free from biases in selecting the best talent for the job.

"People that think that we're over the hill when it comes to diversity and inclusion, both from a racial as well as gender perspective, are delusional," Lisa Simon, chief economist at people analytics platform Revelio Labs, told Fortune.

"We're not in a moment where you can get rid of all these policies and hope they will continue. As soon as you remove these things, people go back to hiring people that look like them."

Emily Witko, an HR professional at AI startup Hugging Face, also told TechCrunch that the post was a "dangerous oversimplification."

Experts interviewed by Tech Crunch further pointed out that Wang's post does not acknowledge the systemic barriers faced by underrepresented groups.

"A meritocratic system is built on criteria that reflect the status quo, and therefore, it will perpetuate existing inequalities by continuously favouring those who already have advantages," Witko told TechCrunch.

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